Manning Marable, Historian, 1950-2011

Manning Marable, Historian, 1950-2011
Michigan Citizen,April 17-23, 2011

It’s sad that Manning Marable has made his transition. He was only 60.

But we shouldn’t miss the opportunity created by the huge media coverage of his death to discuss the role of African American historians at this time on the clock of the world.

I only spoke twice to Manning. First, in the 1970s when he was fresh out of university and second, in 2002 when he asked me why I was so critical of him. He was probably referring to my 1998 letter to Bob Lucas who led the 1966 March into Cicero IL, Bob had asked me what I thought of Marable’s Call for the Black Radical Congress. The following is from my reply which was published in the May 10, l998 Michigan Citizen;

“ I welcome the call for new thinking and a new movement, But…to create a new movement we must first understand what happened to the old.

“As Jimmy explained in his l969 Manifesto, the civil rights movement effectively came to an end as a movement with the black rebellions which brought on to the historical stage the black street force. The clearest sign of its emergence was the spectacular growth of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers were an organized force for only a few years. Forced into a virtual civil war with the police both by provocateurs…and the impatience of its own members, the party began to fall apart. But while it lasted, it left no doubt that black street youth were at war with the American way of life, although they were unclear on what to put in its place.

“Before his assassination Martin Luther King Jr. was also challenged by the Vietnam war and the rebellions to go beyond the civil rights movement. In his last speeches and writings he was exploring a new kind of revolution that would combine a radical revolution of values with a radical transformation of structures. He recognized that it was no longer possible to separate the struggle against Racism from the struggle against Materialism and Militarism. ‘Material growth has been made an end in itself. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. Technology has been so exalted that we overlook the way it denies people the opportunity to participate and the alienation its produces, especially among the young.’

“King called for new ways to involve young people in direct ‘self-transforming and structure-transforming’ actions ‘in our dying cities.’But few black leaders heeded his words. Some were too busy taking advantage of the opportunities, created by the threat of more rebellions, to pursue careers in the system. Others became so caught up in the struggle for rights that they forgot that what had made the civil rights movement so powerful was not so much the struggle for equality (who wants to be integrated into a burning house?) but the struggle to stretch the humanity of all Americans. As a result, black organizations have increasingly become self-interest groups in competition with other self-interest groups, black struggles no longer play their historic role of advancing everyone’s humanity, and we are now engaged in a life and death struggle for the bodies and souls of our sons and daughters trying to find their way in an increasingly violent and materialistic society.

“We will never know what King might have done had he not been killed. What we do know is that in the last thirty years the ‘giant triplets’ have become even more dehumanizing, our communities and cities have been turned into wastelands by multinational corporations and Hi-Tech, and the underclass has become increasingly desperate. That is why inner city youth and a growing numbers of other Americans need a vision powerful enough to redirect our anger and frustration into positive ‘self-transforming and structure-transforming’ struggles. Until and unless this need is met, our country will continue to deteriorate socially and morally, no matter how much it expands economically and technologically.

“This new vision is already being created by the struggles to reclaim our communities and rebuild our cities now going on all across the country. As we move towards the twenty-first century, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the main challenge facing people of color and all Americans is to create new, sustainable, healthy and environmentally just cities where local residents are responsible for the decisions that affect our daily lives, especially what to produce and what technologies to use, based on what will best promote more harmonious relationships among ourselves and with Nature. Jimmy called it the struggle to “recivilize our cities.’

“To transform these struggles into a self-developing movement we need to involve school children and young people with the same confidence with which the civil rights movement engaged them in the struggle against segregation. This is the best way…to reverse the deterioration of our communities and cities. It is also the best way to get their cognitive juices flowing…We must reject an educational system organized to promote individual upward mobility and the middle class values that King deplored. In order to internalize the relationship between actions and consequences and between cause and effect, in order to develop a profound sense of our interdependence with one another, with the Earth and with people the world over, our children need to be involved from early on in community-building and productive activities.

“DETROIT SUMMER, the intergenerational, multicultural youth program/movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up, was created by this kind of thinking. It begins its seventh season on June 17, l998.”